“I had about 50 men turn up at my home thinking that I wanted to be raped by them.”

is revenge porn a crime

If we really care about protecting women, we must criminalise revenge porn rather than forcing victims to pursue costly civil litigation, argues lawyer Zosia Kilmartin.

Imagine opening Google and finding pictures of yourself leaked to an adult website. Your face has been photoshopped onto the body of a woman engaging in overtly sexual acts. Over the top appear the words “come and rape me” and “I need to be humiliated, tortured and degraded” with your name and address linked.

This happened to one of my clients, Robyn Night , whose ex-boyfriend spent years terrorising her through this type of conduct.

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Surprisingly, the behaviour known as ‘revenge porn’ is not currently considered a crime in federal law. While South Australia and Victoria have enacted their own revenge porn offences, the lack of federal legislation leaves women less protected and forces victims to pursue costly civil suits.

It’s been more than a year since the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee completed its inquiry into revenge porn. The report concluded that the Federal Government needed to take urgent action to criminalise revenge porn. Little has happened since.

Rather, the Federal Government appears to favour victims pursuing revenge porn through the civil legal system. And while the e-Safety Commissioner is currently working on an online reporting tool and a national civil penalty system, these are unlikely to be enough.

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"If we really care about protecting women, we must criminalise revenge porn." (Image: Supplied)

Here is the practical reality of most civil proceedings: they are very expensive. Many victims do not have tens of thousands of dollars to spare for legal fees after these traumatic incidents.

Even if proceedings are commenced and an order for monetary compensation is obtained, it can be a pointless exercise if the offender does not have the means or the intention to ever pay the penalty.

I’m not suggesting that criminalising revenge porn will solve this highly complex issue. The global nature of the internet makes policing particularly difficult, especially if the despicable content is posted on sites hosted outside Australia.

But in the absence of an adequate criminal justice response, revenge porn will likely continue terrorising victims. After all, if we can’t bring ourselves to call something a crime, do we even think it’s that bad?

Labor MP Terri Butler has introduced a private member’s bill to create nationally consistent Commonwealth criminal laws that cover revenge porn. If passed, this legislation would send a clear message that revenge porn is a serious crime which is punishable by imprisonment. And importantly, it will equip authorities to assist victims like Robyn, who seek urgent help.

Then if the Federal Government wants to introduce a civil penalty regime which victims can also access if circumstances permit, they should by all means do so. Too often victims are told they “should pick better boyfriends” or “should be more careful with their photos”. Victim blaming is unfair and doesn’t help anyone. It seems disingenuous for us to claim to be a country that cares about the treatment of women while denying them the very means to hold their perpetrators to account.

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My client Robyn told me that “over 5 years, I had approximately 50 men turn up at my home thinking that I wanted to be raped by them. I lived in fear of taking my son to the park, going walking by myself or opening my front door. I was a prisoner in my own home. I was too scared to let my son play in our front yard.”

Robyn tells me that when she first spoke to police they were at a loss as to what to do. This is unsurprising considering how grossly inadequate our criminal laws are in relation to this issue. No woman should go through this kind of ordeal.

Robyn’s ex-boyfriend is currently serving a four-and-a-half year prison sentence after pleading guilty to stalking offences. Not directly for ‘revenge porn’. We need to make it easier for more women to access justice for these horrific incidents. Criminalising revenge porn at a federal level would be a big step in the right direction.

Do you agree with Zosia? Should acts of revenge porn be criminalised on a federal level?

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